The Nationals play in a dumpster fire of a division, which is among the reasons they entered Tuesday with an 8.5-game lead over their closest competition in the National League East despite their dumpster fire of a bullpen. By now, however, it should be apparent that no lead is safe for Washington’s current collection of relievers. The Mets, who host the Nationals for a four-game series beginning Thursday, made up four games in the standings in the past six days, thanks in part to a Washington bullpen that has allowed 14 runs after the seventh inning in the last three games.
Frustrations boiled over again Monday night — in the Nationals dugout and on #NatsTwitter — after Washington blew yet another late-inning lead against the Braves. Matt Albers, one of Washington’s few bright spots out of the bullpen this season, walked two of the first three batters he faced in the ninth inning before allowing a three-run, go-ahead home run to Tyler Flowers. Cameras caught Bryce Harper hurling a Gatorade cup in disgust after Washington’s final out in an 11-10 loss, the Nationals’ fourth straight.
Nats bullpen breaking Bryce. pic.twitter.com/dcmOmOiGl2
— Holden Kushner (@Holdenradio) June 13, 2017
— Eddie Matz (@ESPNeddiematz) June 13, 2017
“We need some help,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said after the game. “We need some help big time. We’ve been knowing that all along.”
Nationals fans have known it, too, which is part of what makes the bullpen’s performance so frustrating. Relief pitching was the obvious weak link of this team coming into the season after closer Mark Melancon, who was acquired at last year’s trade deadline, signed with San Francisco and the Nationals failed to sign a proven replacement. Instead, Washington anointed Blake Treinen as its Opening Day closer and filled out the bullpen with underwhelming names such as Enny Romero and Joe Blanton.
While Washington’s bullpen woes were predictable, they’re also unusual. Relief pitching has been among the team’s strengths under General Manager Mike Rizzo, at least during the regular season, for years. Washington lost 93 games in 2010, but that was primarily due to an offense that scored the third-fewest runs in the National League and the fact that Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis combined to make 63 starts. Anchored by Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett, then-Manager Jim Riggleman’s bullpen ranked fifth in baseball with a 3.35 ERA that season. Over the next six years, the Nationals finished outside the top-10 in bullpen ERA one time, in 2013, when they slipped to 17th. Last year, they ranked second.
Washington relievers have allowed the seventh-most home runs (32) of any bullpen in baseball this season despite pitching the fewest innings (174.1). Fans’ blood pressure when Baker removes his starter is the highest of the Statcast era. After Monday’s meltdown, Washington’s bullpen ERA stands at 5.11, which ranks 28th in baseball. That’s a far cry from the 2007 Devil Rays, whose 6.26 bullpen ERA was the worst in recent history, but it’s more disgusting than the league-worst 5.09 ERA that 22 different Nationals relievers including — trigger warning — Logan Kensing and Jesus Colome contributed to in 2009. (Before 2009, the Nationals’ worst bullpen ERA was 4.49 in 2006.)
Ah, 2009. That April, Nationals relievers blew saves in three consecutive games, prompting manager Manny Acta and Rizzo to make drastic changes.
“I think it’s unacceptable,” Acta said after Saul Rivera allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a loss to the Marlins that dropped the Nationals to 1-10. “I think our fans have every right to be mad, like we are right now. And it’s not going to be tolerated. We’re going to have a brand new bullpen tomorrow, and if those guys that come in don’t get it done, we’re going to continue getting guys out of here. Because I think all of us deserve better. We had a chance to win three games in a row, we couldn’t do it, and it’s not going to be tolerated. So starting tomorrow we’re going to have a brand new bullpen. Plenty of moves, and more to come.”
Washington designated Rivera, Steven Shell and Wil Ledezma for assignment after the game and replaced them with Garrett Mock, Jason Bergmann and Kip Wells.
“I just feel like the bullpen is the reason we’re losing all these games, so I guess they’ve got to do something,” Shell said.
Eight years later, the bullpen is once again the reason the Nationals are losing games, and it’s past time for Rizzo and principal owner Ted Lerner to do something before it’s too late. Calling up Trevor Gott from Class AAA Syracuse on Monday was a start. Could fellow minor leaguer Erick Fedde, who was promoted to Syracuse on Tuesday, be next? Can the former Mr. Met throw a fastball? If nothing else, he’d be motivated to stick it to his former employer.
In 2009, the Nationals’ shoddy bullpen helped Washington finish with baseball’s worst record and the No. 1 pick in the following year’s draft, which they used to select Harper. There’s no silver lining to this year’s relief struggles.
And now for some GIF therapy …
— MLB Insider Dinger (@atf13atf) June 13, 2017